Looters hide billions in farms – Dogara

Yakubu-DogaraABUJA— THE Speaker  of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has expressed shock over the wicked manner some leaders looted the nation’s treasury, saying they now hide their loot in farms.

Dogara, who lamented that no conviction had been secured so far against the looters to serve as deterrence to others, said, in an interview, that there was need to reassess the way the anti-graft war was being waged to ensure the rule of law was followed.

Yakubu Dogara
Yakubu Dogara

He also urged support for the President’s anti-graft war.

He said: “If you look at the massive looting of the treasury, actually, I have been in government for quite some time, I never, never could have imagined the scale of corruption that we are witnessing, where people took lots of money running into billions and buried them in farms.

“As we speak, they are recovering monies from someone’s farm somewhere around Abuja. It is very unfortunate, where people stole money just for the sake of stealing. If you were the one who was in charge of fighting corruption, you would have even been shocked by the scale of the problem.

“I guess part of the problem we have is that the scale of the problem far outweighs the anticipation of the agencies. So, if care is not taken in the process, we may not get things right. They will have to keep their heads level to be able to be in charge of this fight and do it effectively.”

No major conviction in past one year

Dogara, who also spoke on a host of burning national issues, lamented that there had not been a major conviction in the last one year.

His words: “You will recall that the fight against corruption is one of the cardinal promises that Mr President made before assumption of office. He had cause to say that we have to kill corruption before corruption kills us and I know he is committed to fighting corruption to a stand still.

“The process of doing that has become a subject of concern to some people. The EFCC is actually the agency, as we all know, that is in charge of this fight and if you look at what it has done so far, there is even a discussion as to whether they are proceeding in the right direction and whether it is not time for us to sit down and do an assessment of how the fight has been, in view of the fact that in the last one year I do not think there has been any major conviction.

“And it has always been a case of this person has been arrested and detained and some things have been done or he has been charged to court and then the story ends there. Whether we will succeed in fighting corruption, if we continue in this way,  only God knows.

“If the end is just to arrest people, charge them to court and, thereafter, nothing happens, no one is convicted; because conviction, even if you are not jailed, has a way of deterring people. The fact that you are carrying that negative appellation as a former convict has the potential to deter people from corruption in the future.

“But if I am just arrested, charged to court and maybe some money recovered from me and at the end of the day, nothing happens, a lot of people may not be deterred in the future from engaging in corrupt practices.”

War not one-sided

The speaker disagreed with claims that the war against corruption was selective, stressing that naturally, the war would revolve around those who had the opportunity to serve in government at the centre.

He said: “If we are talking about corruption, naturally, it will relate to those that had opportunity to serve in government. You will recall that, especially, the PDP had been in power for a number of years, more than a decade and if you were to weigh members of opposition that are in government now and had opportunity to serve, those that would have tendencies to engage in pilfering of resources, majority will come from PDP, except we are not being realistic.

“Though we can’t claim that all the members of APC are saints, you pointed out that APC spent money in the course of the campaign, but where did this money come from? Because as it is, we haven’t really had any facts about government officials forwarding money to the cause of the campaign.

“Majority of the money that was stolen was channelled towards the PDP campaign.  You know that this arms purchase monies, for instance, virtually everything was given for the prosecution of PDP campaign.

“I do not think a dime went to any member of the APC, we were all in government then. I can’t remember a discussion like that then but I knew when some of the funds were being given to some of our friends as well but I believe that no one that is of APC stock was given that money.

“The whole thing was scripted. I don’t think the fight has really been one sided. If you recall, one of the closest aides to the President, I don’t want to name him, when he was picked up, everyone was shocked that that man could be picked up.

“He had been one of the most dutiful, one of the people that is very, very close to the President, yet he wasn’t spared when evidence was adduced that he benefited from it and he had to refund the money.”

Senate forgery case

On the Senate forgery case, he said he did not want to offer an opinion because the matter was in court. However, he cautioned against anything that would hurt the National Assembly as it is the bastion of democracy in any country.

He added:  “Where you do not have an independent National Assembly, you definitely will have some kind of totalitarian tendencies in the government.

“In the past, there had been stability in regards to the work of the judiciary and the executive because usually, during military regimes or intervention, the institution that was suspended was the National Assembly and for obvious reasons.

“The body that now makes the law is the executive body. Ours is a democracy that is still evolving, it is not as nascent as it used to be but we still have a lot to learn.

“If the goal is that they want to strangle the parliament, then definitely, we are going to run into serious problems and that will be an affront, a serious affront, on democracy and that will be totally unacceptable.

“But since the matter is in court, it doesn’t mean that when allegations are made, that they are true. It doesn’t. A lot of people have been charged to courts before and at the end of the day, insufficient evidence is given. And in a case of forgery, it is a criminal offence and the standard of proof, the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt.

“The Senate has spoken, it is an issue that all of us, including the Senate and the House of Representatives, will have to really sit down and analyze. As it is, I haven’t really seen the papers, I haven’t seen the charges, I don’t know whether they are grounded or not but I have asked, as a lawyer too, that I needed to see the nature of the evidence against the presiding officers that are being charged to court in a case of forgery.

“If there is a compelling case, we won’t say he should be exempted because we are legislators. So, if there is no basis, serious basis, justifiable basis, for preferring the charge, I believe that the accusation by the Senate may ultimately be right.

“That is the situation as I have seen myself. The matter is in court, we will allow the judiciary to do its work and I sincerely believe that if they are guilty as they are alleged, that the proof of evidence will disclose any material allegation against them, then we will continue to do the work we do in parliament without fear of any intimidation.”

Allegation of a  cabal in govt

On Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s allegation of government within Buhari’s government, Dogara said:  “The Senate president has his own sources of information, he is a close watcher of development of government, he has been in the system far longer than myself and so, for him to have made this allegation, it means he had seen certain things or certain trends that lent credence to what he said.

“In my case, I cannot say that I have seen a situation where a cabal that sits in government can make a decision. I don’t know, but I believe that since he is the one that said it, he will be in a better position to throw light on this.

“He has said there is a cabal, that there is a government within a government, so I believe that in due course, he will educate us more, throw light onto it and maybe we can unveil the cabal. That is a job journalists can really do effectively.”

 NASS may approach S-Court  on honouring of invitations

On relations with the Presidency and the Executive arm of government not honouring invitation, especially the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Dogara said the lawmakers might approach the Supreme Court to get a decision on the issue.

“Whether we should approach the court and ask for interpretation of our powers to summon ministers, I don’t think that is in doubt. The provisions of the constitution is manifestly and patently clear about powers in pursuance of a resolution published in a gazette.

“In the case of Diezani, what she did was a clever way of saying there was no publication in a gazette and so we had not complied with the constitutional provision to compel her. That was neither here nor there but the constitution was very clear that in pursuance to our resolution published in a gazette, we can invite any authority in Nigeria or any place to give evidence in clear exercise of our legislative powers.

“It is manifestly provided for in our constitution. We will see what we can do if it is necessary to approach the court again, maybe the Supreme Court, to say pronounce on this.

“What we should correct more in Nigeria is this culture of impunity. It is not a question of law, it is just a matter of when an individual feels that to some extent, I can manoeuvre my way through the system so I’m not bound by provisions of the law.

“Due process and rule of law are the foundation of democracy, to the extent that it is not the government of men but the government of laws. Anyone who knows and believes in our laws will not have any difficulty honouring the invitation of the National Assembly, except that person feels guilty.

“The attorney general has had cause to appear before committees of the National Assembly in the past, especially when we were dealing with the issues of Kogi State, MTN and others. So, it is a bit strange to say he is not going to honour Senate’s invitation because he is not answerable to them. It is left for him to explain but like they say in law, you cannot approbate and reprobate.”

Calls for restructuring

On calls for restructuring of Nigeria and adoption of confab report by constitution review committee, the speaker said he agreed with the fact that there shouldn’t be any off limits discussions on restructuring.

He said:  “It is healthy, it is going to lead us to a destination but I don’t want to prejudge the issues because I know that these issues will come very soon. To me, as an arbiter and if I let the cat out of the bag, it will be too obvious that I have taken a position.

“So, I don’t want to say this is my position in this, I want to maintain neutrality, even though I have my own sentiments about the issues. The House committee has said they have adopted the conference report as a working document and that is only because they are the ones responsible for crafting bills that will lead to alteration to the constitution.

“It is only when those bills are crafted by the committee and transmitted to the larger house that the debate will take place and that is why I am saying I do not want to have an opinion as it is, even though I cannot run away from the fact that as a citizen, as a politician, I have to see things from the angle of an enlightened person and so if I say I don’t have a position, I will be lying.”

We will do the wish of Nigerians on grazing reserve bills

On the issue of Grazing Bills, the speaker said: “My take on this is very simple. I have had cause to talk to some of the promoters of these bills to say hey, there is this unhealthy discussion about these bills in the National Assembly, so let’s just halt and have a small group of people that will take a look at some of these issues from the contributions of Nigerians and let’s advice ourselves before moving on and as it is, that is where we are.

“We want to listen to opinions of our citizens and at the end of the day, it is government of our people, we are going to do what majority of our citizens want and not what a few want to be done. As the House of the people, we cannot run away from it, so ultimately, it is the will of the people that will triumph in this matter, so right now, we have halted all further processes on these bills.’’

Amnesty programme

“With regards to amnesty, I don’t think the government has stopped the amnesty programme. The contention, as I heard, is that the funds appropriated was not enough. It is not the case that there is an outright ban on amnesty programme.

“All of us believe that this is the right way to approach this. We were in government when this decision was taken and we sincerely believe that it provides a great window for managing this crisis in the Niger Delta, so it is one of the things the executive cannot simply wish away without some dire consequences.

“I believe that the only way out is engaging these militants. We have to do everything possible within government to ensure that we rein them in so that we can have the needed peace. Not even just for economy exploitation or economic benefit of the whole country, but to ensure that that region develops too, they need the peace.”

Too early to assess APC achievements

On the achievement of the APC government in the last one year, Dogara said: ‘’One year may be a small period of time for us to begin to assess the progress of this government.

‘’We have not even started implementing the budget in its true sense and that will be done after procurement processes are over. That is one of the challenges that we have have on ground.”

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